Category: Opinion

Can We Go Dutch – What Can We Learn from Dutch Beer Festivals

I’m not sure if there’s a word for this (Dutch-o-phile, perhaps?) but I’m a big fan of anything to do with the Netherlands.

From the ‘I saw a mouse!’ song of my childhood to my current status as fan-girl and unofficial cheerleader for Dutch breweries.

Suffice to say I am biased when I say this but…Dutch beer festivals are better than UK beer festivals.

Admittedly the sample size isn’t large enough for me to say this with any scientific certainty -although believe me, I am working on that – but there is a chilled, laid back air to festivals in the Netherlands that you rarely see in the UK.

For one thing, it appears that across the North Sea being drunk is seen almost as an unfortunate side-effect of beer rather than the raison d’etre of many British drinkers. Families (babies and small children are a common site at Dutch beer festivals) gather around stodgy picnics of sausage, bread, cheese and bananas to stave off drunkenness for as long as possible. That’s not to say every UK festival degenerates into the blood-splattered carnage I’ve witnessed at CAMRA’s Great British Beer Festival and London Craft Beer Festival, or that that I’ve not seen soon-to-be regretted excesses at the PINT Bokbierfestival in Amsterdam’s Beurs van Berlage.

A few weeks ago, I decided to test my theory at Brouwerij de Molen annual Borefts festival in Bogegraven, South Holland. Trying my hardest to cast a critical eye over what I believe to be the best festival in the world serving the best beer in the world (see told you I was biased), I spotted families with prams, pet dogs sitting under tables, picnics, camaraderie and locals handing out flyers to encourage festival goers to venture out of the brewery and visit the nearby town. Admittedly, there was a smattering of rowdiness later in the day but that was decidedly low level considering most beers hovered above the 8% mark with a couple of notable big-hitters – De Molen’s 21.3% Hel & Verdoemenis Bowmore Barrel Aged IJsbock and Brouwerij Kees 26% Ijbock 2017 Oloroso BA – moving the average ABV upwards.

De Molen’s Menno Oliver told me that Borefts wasn’t typical of all Dutch festivals, he put its friendly atmosphere down to three things:

“We give people lots of space here, there’s no music and people come from all around the world – it’s more like a gathering of friends than a beer festival”.

He’s right of course, Borefts is as much about the destination as the drinking: there were 7,000 visitors from 40 countries; a map displayed by the main entrance shows visitors from across Europe and as far afield as the US and New Zealand. This makes the festival goers slightly older and certainly more intent on remembering the festival than if they’d just popped down the road for a beer blitz.

But I still maintain that there’s something about Dutch festivals that is all together more welcoming. Despite some obvious shortcomings, this summer’s Planet Oedipus (£30 a pint homebrew anyone?) is a case in point: not least because it took place at an urban farm in the suburbs of Amsterdam. Laid out like a cross between music festival and a village fete it radiated inclusivity and cool vibes. As with Borefts, the stands were manned by the breweries, if not the brewer themselves.

So what can we learn from Dutch beer festivals?

  • Give people the option of smaller measures;
  • Have more brewers and breweries serving their own beers;
  • Encourage people to bring their own food to help ward-off drunkenness;
  • Make the environment welcoming and, if possible, family-friendly;
  • Give people space.

In the meantime, I’m readying myself for this month’s Bockbierfestival. Pass me a small glass of 8 % beer and a chunk of gouda, I’m determined to master that confident, chilled, Dutch vibe…

World Mental Health Day – Beer with Buddies

Tuesday 10th October is World Mental Health Day and the theme is Tea & Talk. People are being encouraged to get togther and talk mental health, share experiences and/or raise awareness with the hope of making it an easier topic to talk about.

Mental Health is still not an easy topic to talk about, especially amongst men, with suicide being one of the major killers of men. According to Samaratians latest figure the numbers of female suicide per year are also showing an increase.

These figures show the need to talk openly without fear and judgement about our mental health. I have read some thoughtful and powerful blogs from beer bloggers that I highly recommend reading including Mark Johnson, Pete McKerry and Jim Cullen.

The beer scene itself has had a major impact on my own mental health as I have made some great friends, many of whom I believe will be lifetime friends, and people I can be open and honest about my mental health struggles.

This is where my clumsy alliteration comes in. For World Mental Health Day why not contact a buddy to go for a beer and chat, I’m not saying go and get drunk, but a chat with a friend while sipping on a Session IPA may be just what you or your friends needs.

Then do it again, not just on World Mental Health Day, but make chatting with friends about your struggles and your victories a normal occurance. We all have mental health, and nearly everyone has periods of poor mental health, so it should be normal to talk about it.

The alliteration aside (and who doesn’t love a bit of alliteration) you don’t need a beer or tea, or any beverage…just talk. Perhaps World Mental Health Day can just be the start.

The Marston’s Re-brand & Nano Kit Launch: Our Thoughts

A few weeks ago we received the offer to attend the launch for a new Nano Kit at Marston’s Brewery in Burton. It’s the first time we have been invited to this type of event, and as Dave is a proud Burtonian, it was interesting to explore Burton’s brewing history, and Dave’s own personal history. (Disclosure: We went, drank free beer and ate fantastic pork pies).  In this blog, both Dave, and I are going to take you through our thoughts of the evening, and the re-brand of Marston’

Bob’s Thoughts:

We thought we would write a few few words about the event and it would be no big thing….then I looked at Twitter in the morning and saw the response to the new brand launch.  As Boak & Bailey have highlighted, it was met with nearly universal dislike from all corners of the beer

I’m going to get this out of the way now, I’m not a fan of the new artwork on Marston’s range of beers, this is just a gut reaction.  A sense of dread began to grow that the event would be about who the fella on the new Pedigree bottle was, why they chose the name Pearl Jet, and that it would have nothing to do with the exciting things we had already heard about the nano kit. 

I still don’t particularly like the artwork, however, I came away genuinely excited about the direction Marston’s are going and plans they have for the beer they produce. One of the lines we heard was ‘this is not just a brand change, but a change of attitude’. This could quite easily be a trite, empty statement, but the evidence we saw suggests that Marston’s are at least trying to change the way they do things.  Where I expected a mundane discussion on colour schemes I found people passionate about what they could add to Burton (not just consume), and where I expected a slideshow, I was met with passionate brewers, and people who really cared about the beer they were

As a beer fan, the most exciting element of the event was the beer the brewers have been producing on the nano kit, including a lovely stout full of dark fruits and roasty notes named Dark Current (full disclosure:may have had a few pints of this one).   As part of the re-brand Marston’s have overhauled their Visitor Centre Bar (D14) and installed a nano brew kit. Speaking to the head brewer Patrick, he spoke excitedly about getting back to basics when brewing on the kit and how excited the other brewers are to try interesting and exciting recipes (saison, sour, and chai were just some of the words thrown around).

Many of the conversations we had with the brewers were similar to the conversations we have had with microbrewery owners, a seriousness about the ingredients and reverence to the brewing process.  


I’ve had many conversations with beer fans saying this is the way we want the big brewers to behave, make these changes and put good beer first.  But is it even possible? I was left with a feeling of damned if they do, and damned if they don’t. Marston’s seem to be trying to do things the right way, exploring new recipes, trying to make a difference to its community, and making changes to it core range to benefit the beer (bottle conditioning).  The question, I’m left with, is whether the share holders will allow this freedom,  and the wider beer community are willing to give the beers ago, to enable them to make these changes, and ‘go with it’, or if, because it’s a big brewery, and is well known for its traditional beers, it can ever successfully take a different direction, with smaller batch brews, that appeal to a different type of consumer.  Is it even possible for a brewery like Marstons to  genuinely make these changes, and if so, will beer drinkers let them? 

I’m still not a big fan of Pedigree and was not overly won over by Pearl Jet, but IF (and it’s a big IF) they produce more beers like Dark Current, their new Red IPA – Slow Mo, and continue to be serious about making a difference to the people of Burton,  I’m gonna cut them a little slack about some naff artwork.

Dave’s Thoughts:

“The old home town looks the same…”, well not really, Burton on Trent has changed a lot since I left there longer ago than I care to think about, so it was nice to go back on the 1st November. The reason for this was that our blogging colleague Lucy Kemp was doing PR for Marston’s brewery and invited us over to check out the new nano brewery that they had installed in the Visitors

As well as the nano brewery launch what we didn’t know when we accepted the invite was that it also coincided with the re-branding of Marston’s which is a sure fire way to stir up the beer cognoscenti hornets nest. Suffice to say the twitterati had been out in force all day and the impression I got was that most people thought it was the work of the devil. From my own point of view I get why they feel the need to do it, they are a business after all, but it will have little impact on me personally since I don’t buy a lot of Marston’s beer. We had a talk from the people behind it and they all seemed passionate about the brand, and also about Burton, Lee Williams, the marketing manager,  said that it was “the spiritual home of brewing” and they wanted to bring a focus back onto the town and its brewing history. Well as a man of a certain age who felt like he’d had a dagger in the heart when they put the Coors symbol on the Bass tower, I concur with that sentiment. So, as a new experience it was interesting to hear things from a marketing perspective, but we were really there for the beer.

On arrival rather than trying the 2 beers from the nano kit I went for half of Pedigree, a beer I used to love in my formative years…but somewhere over the intervening years something has changed, not sure if it’s the beer or my taste, or a mixture of both. We will come back to that later. Next we tried the Slow Mo, a reasonably hoppy red ale that had been brewed on the small kit. At this point we had a brief chat with Patrick, the head brewer who was quite enthusiastic about the hands on experience of the nano kit which is only a 2.5 barrel kit as opposed to the huge scale of the regular, computerised brewing he does. And I think the fact that a lot of the new young brewers will be able to come up with ideas and get their hands dirty has a certain appeal.p1010150

After the above PR talk we had a bit of food, cheese, pork pie and scotch egg from a local vendor that went very well with the beer. Patrick also lead a little mini tasting of 2 beers, one from the big brewery and one from the nano kit. First up was Old Empire pale ale which used lightly kilned malt to produce a very clear golden coloured ale. It is a traditional IPA of the sort that was regularly sent to India back in the 19th century, and uses Goldings and Cascade hops to produce a flavour that begins sweet but then edges towards a light bitterness. The second beer was Dark Current, an imperial 7.5% stout brewed on the nano kit. This used chocolate & black malt with malted wheat and an addition of coffee beans in the kettle to give a big bold flavour. Everybody was pretty impressed by this beer, and I don’t know if this is damning with faint praise but I don’t think you’d guess this was a Marston’s beer, and judging from some of the ideas we were told about I think that might be true of some of the forthcoming brews.

After the tasting we had the pleasure of having Gen showing us the Burton Union System. This is a woman that is both passionate and knowledgeable about beer and the history of Marstons and brewing in Burton and listening to her made us both proud to be Burtonians. Although no brewing had been done that day it was still great to climb the stairs to see where the yeast (which has been used for many years) is collected. And I am in awe of the guys who clean out the wooden barrels. I’m just not sure why, if this is the way Pedigree has always been brewed it tastes so different…but as I said before maybe it’s me.

So all in all we had a very pleasant evening, I do like the Visitor Centre and hope it succeeds in attracting drinkers in to sample the new brews from the DE14 nano brewery and, although not a big drinker of Marston’s ales, I do wish them continued success in the future.


Over coming months, we look forward to re-visiting Marston’s, and trying more of their small batch brews. Currently these beers are being served at Marston’s Visitor Centre, with the aim of being served in other venues in and around Burton.  If you get the opportunity to try any of the beers brewed on their nano kit, we strongly recommend you give them a go!  We’d welcome conversations with you about what you think, both of the re-brand, and their new beers.

You Can’t Hurry Love: How I Stopped Being a Craft Snob and Learned to Love Cask

Castle_Rock_Brewery_-_Nottingham_-_England_-_2004-11-04This blog has been treated like a cask, left to condition and mature.  It’s a blog I have mused over and considered, in the hope I would gain more understanding.

It is not my aim to contribute to the arguments between Cask v Keg, or ‘Real Ale’ v ‘Craft’ Beer, but to explore my own journey with cask beer.  I don’t profess to be an expert, merely somebody who feels he has gone on a journey of discovery (cheesy I know) and wishes to share his thoughts.

My first real experience of real ale was at the age of 25 with my eccentric landlord Graham, the man who also introduced me to the delight of Port.  The setting couldn’t be more stereotypical, a traditional pub, with wooden beams and dodgy looking carpet.  As I was preparing to tuck into my roast dinner Graham convinced me that an ale was the only correct accompaniment to the Yorkshire pudding.  It was warm and flat and I was not sure about it at all, but had more depth of flavour than my usual fare and had me intrigued. For a while I was still happy buying 3 for £20 big boxes of Lager from supermarkets, ensuring they were nice and cold before I drank them, but I had at least begun to realise beer could be more than one dimensional and have diverse flavours.

Real Ale did become one of my drinks of choice when attending a pub, but I still found the majority to be warm, flat and and a little boring at times.  But the journey had begun..

Much of my beer drinking at the time was done at macro-brewery pubs, and mass produced bottles.  Once I was introduced to beer from Keg and the ‘craft’ (my dislike for that word will likely show up in a future blog post) beers available from the new smaller and independent breweries I was obsessed. This beer was bursting with flavour, really interesting and intriguing flavours, it was full of life and I still saw Cask beer as predominantly being warm, flat and boring, so consigned it to the old and stuck in their ways.

The very fact I helped set up this website should tell you I love talking about beer as much as I love drinking it. It was during these discussions my opinion begun to change, I believe one of my best qualities is my ability to adapt and willingness to change my opinion, I find closed minds miss out on the exciting and varied life we have open to us. During discussion with my good friend Cookie, @Redlac_UK, (Barman for many years) and Neil, @NeilHemo5, (now of Tilt), my opinion of Cask beer was challenged as I begun to learn about the real craft and skill that goes in to keeping and serving Cask beer to us punters.  I learned how a cask should be kept and cared for, and the role of the cellarman and/or landlord in ensuring the beer continues to develop until it gets to the pump, and subsequently the glass in my hand. (we explored some of this with Chris when we meet for our Profile of The Craven Arms).

These discussion convinced me to give cask another go, and by this time I was having it at bars, like The Craven Arms & Cherry Reds, that kept the casks well.  I began to try more and more Cask beers, and the epiphany moment came at Birmingham Beer Bash 2015, and the moment my lips touched Thornbridge Jaipur X on cask. Wow Wow Wee Waa!  It was bursting with flavours and had a depth I’d rarely experienced.  It was my beer of the festival.  I had decided I needed to learn more.  The point that convinced me to write this blog came during another night at The Craven Arms on the launch of the first Cloudwater   DIPA.  Having tried both, I found I preferred Cloudwater IPA on Cask to Keg Cloudwater DIPA (a beer people had been raving about).  I wondered why so much of the cask I had was so boring, when this was how cask could be served.caskmarque

I realised keg wasn’t always the best way to serve a beer and Cask is not just for the beardy old fella in the corner…it’s also for the beardy young fella, non beardy young fella and for the ladies (beard or not).  It is clear, to me at least, that the real issue with cask is the way it is so poorly looked after and managed in many bars and pubs.  Perhaps if we insist on our cask beers being kept better, and cared for, the quality of cask around the country will improve.  My personal hope is that this will be a major outcome of the CAMRA, @CAMRA_Official, Revitalisation Project and Cask beers will be revolutionised and protected again, as was CAMRA raison d’être when it originally started in 1971.

In the meantime I plan to get to a point where my blogging pal Dave @davhop72 is no longer surprised when I ask for a half of something on Cask when it’s his round.

Traceability and Terroir

The terms traceability and terroir are massively important when it comes to selling high quality coffee, tea and wine – but much less so in beer. This blog post suggest some of the reasons the beer industry hasn’t fully embraced these terms as yet, and some signs that it is changing.

Wine, coffee and tea jump out as clear examples, but there are many more where part of the attraction of a high quality (craft/artisan/premium/whatever) product is that the customer knows where it – and it’s components – came from. That traceability conveys a belief that all the individuals involved, from the farmer to the seller, will have been treated at least somewhat fairly. That perception may or may not be true for individual cases, but overall I believe that businesses which are willing to be open about their sourcing will tend to behave more fairly than those who are unwilling. This traceability also allows farmers and suppliers to build their own reputations with the end consumer, which builds demand for things made using their produce.

Terroir is a wine term, meaning the flavour imparted to a natural product by the land on which it is grown – incorporating everything from the effect of the micro-climate, the soil chemistry, altitude and much more. It’s part of what drives wine, coffee and tea geeks – that the same plant stock, grown on different farms but using the same techniques, will produce different flavours.

Wine is well known for the value that appellations and farm reputation can add to a bottle, but this is true in coffee and tea too. Coffee farms which have a reputation (possibly through Cup of Excellence or World Barista Championship success) can be highly sought after. Teas produced from famous tea trees, such as Dan Congs and similar, attract high premiums. Rarely does beer achieve this. There are still sought after beers, but this is typically from buzz around the brewery, not because of their ingredients. The brewers are seen as the ones who create flavour, rather than focusing on the role their ingredients plays.

Why is this? Well, most obviously, even a simple beer combines water, malted barley, hops and yeast – all of which impact the result. On top of that, the brewing process is more complex than the others mentioned. This certainly makes it more difficult for a drinker to pick out what differences are due to ingredients and which to the process. This is further complicated by the interaction of those ingredients – the flavour contribution of the hops, for example, is far from a simple result of amounts and times of hop additions. It’s not even entirely determined during the boil, but also by factors like the yeast used and all the many variables that in turn effect fermentation.

On a pragmatic note, it’s also more difficult for small breweries to source distinctive ingredients. Breweries don’t control the barley that a maltser uses – they can only chose the maltser they buy from. Nor can they chose the hop farm they work with – they can only chose from the options the hop merchant gives them. This is an issue for small coffee roasters too – they can only buy what importers offer. However, demand drives the market and you can see coffee importers recognising the needs of their customers for traceability, exclusivity and terroir in their sourcing. We may yet see more of this from hop merchants and maltsters.

So, given all these challenges, why should we think terroir and traceability will take off in beer? Well, firstly we look to the U.S., who have lead the way in many craft beer trends. Rogue, massive by the U.K. craft beer standards, now have their own Hop and Barley farms. A read of Stan Heironymus’ Brewing Elements book Hops also tells stories of more and more brewers traveling to hop farms and searching for clarity of their sourcing process for their own production purposes – ripe for becoming blog posts and marketing. Similar stories appear in John Mallett’s Malt book from the same series (although there is no doubt barley varieties have received far less buzz than hops).

Secondly, good small brewers need to charge more for their beers to cover the ingredients they use and the extra time and hours of work it needs versus a less technically proficient product or one which has benefited from economies of scale. Sooner or later, traceability and terroir will (I hope?) become tools in justifying this to consumers.

Additionally, we can look to the audience for these beers. Single hop beer series have been around for a while now – BrewDog’s IPA is Dead is the first I remember trying, with Cloudwater’s series of four British hopped lagers being the most recent. I don’t think I’m alone in my interest in these kind of brewing experiments, given the apparent interest brewers are still showing in making them. So, what about the next step? What about two beers both single hopped with Cascade, but one with British Cascade and one with American Cascade? What about two beers single hopped, but with the same hop grown on different farms?

Finally, while brewers haven’t embraced this link to farmers, there has quietly been movement from the other side. Stocks Farm, in Suckley near Worcester, grows hops and apples. Since the 2014 harvest they have been selling hops from the farm online, to homebrewers around the world. For homebrewers in the U.K. this is a big step forward – many homebrew shops sell hops that don’t even list their year of harvest, let alone details on their origin. This has given homebrewers the chance to try not only try hops with traceability but new and exciting hop varietals – last year it was Jester, and this year tiny lots of GP75 & GN37 went on sale, experimental new varieties that they are trialing on the farm.

With the greater complexity of beer’s components, it’s likely that it will never put terroir and traceability front and centre in the way high end wine, coffee and tea have. However, I hope these qualities will be increasingly considered and emphasised by farmers, brewers and beer sellers as a way to compete in a marketplace where it is increasingly difficult to find new twists to make a beer distinctive.

Stand up and get noticed

I had dabbled in home brewing prior to being involved professionally with brewers and breweries; making damson gin and a superb elderflower champagne, as well as a Woodforde’s Wherry Kit. I made sure I branded each batch with some bizarre label with an even more obscure title. A lot of the labels I produced for my brews were a subconscious synthesis of all the TV and cartoons I had watched as a child, mixed with movies like Weird Science, DARYL, Karate Kid and Robocop, with a dash of Terry Gilliam meets Brass Eye with a hint of Monkey Dust. There were a few classic influences from my design idols like Paul Rand, El Lissitzky, Saul Bass, Neville Brody.

Alas, one day out of chance, I met the managing director of Sadler’s Ales, not in a pub or at a brewery, but at an NCT class, where parents-to-be learn of what lies ahead in terms of nappy changing and the correct foods and fluids to give a child you know nothing about.

I was very fortunate that we both clicked in terms of imagination, representation, vision and the added value of design on product. The latter is very important, because ultimately we are creating an identity that we need to be powerful enough to differentiate not only with the 100s of bottles that may sit on a shelf, but to compete with breweries with 20, 70, 1000 times the design budget we had.

The result speaks for itself, a unique product that stands out from the crowd through unique characters endorsing the myriad of beers on offer.

Part of the Sadler’s bottled range designed by The Upright One

Ultimately the beer has to be good. If design is aligned to a great product, you are adding immense value. If the sales team is also moving in the same direction, you really have a winner.

A graphical label is not always the way forward. Typography is very powerful and at times, can be recalled a lot easier than an illustration. Getting the subject right is crucial. Read up and research what it is you want to transpose on the bottle. Recently I looked at a project concerning Mercian kings, and a Christian cross was suggested. Further research concluded that the Christianity had not reached this part of the British Isles. You would think that no one would actually sit and analyse the label, but that small bit of reading just helps get things right.

Mercian Alliance of Brewers collaboration brew, bottled by Twisted Barrel Coventry

I am currently working with Fixed Wheel Brewery amongst other breweries. They are based in Blackheath. Again, a lot of reading about cycling, which thematically, is where the packaging revolves around. Big events, cyclists, cycling jargon, frame geometry, races… everything needs to be understood or at least have a good grasp of it. If you try and blag artwork on surface knowledge it will show, not only to the client who is passionate about cycling as he is about his beer, but those in the know.

Fixed Wheel’s Omerta Russian Imperial Stout.

The best advice I can give a brewer is, brew some quality beer. Then, think of a subject matter in your life time that has influenced who you are as a person and how, in some direct or indirect way, has influenced the product you are selling. It could be anything from Minecraft, to Elizabethan alchemists, to robotic villains, engineering components with a twist to programming terms….with a twist. Whatever it is, make sure whoever you are taking onboard, to look into the connection and the subsequent representation. Two, that they have read about the subject matter, and to present to you their interpretation before hitting the design packages.

Sadler’s Sweet Leaf. Illustrated by Stourbridge based Wozart

Once ideas, vision and the all important estimate has been signed off start creating something inspiring to present to the world. Remember, that there is a pool of illustrators and graduates out there that need a chance. Help them follow their dreams and passion. Illustrators don’t have to cost a fortune. This only happens when the ideas put forward are not clear from the start. Remember that designers and illustrators are not magicians. They need inputs, sometimes these inputs need to be visual queues as we don’t all process information in the same way.

If your budget is tight, there are a lot of resources out there that are free and only require you to give the author some credit or donate an amount of your liking. This includes typefaces, graphic assets, photos.

Hop and Glory by Craddock’s Brewery. Plays on the royal crest although both beast were reversed to avoid any issues with the official crest.

Keep it legal, the last thing you want is to sell 1 million bottles or pints, and then have a copyright infringement issue at your doorstep. I have seen and keep on seeing examples of blatant misuse of images. Using R2D2 on a pump-clip, or Walter White from Breaking Bad on a bottle. I mean you can use a robot that is blue and white but say has looks like a cross between Hector from Saturn 3 and Optimus Prime. Or, in the case of a “Walter White” style character, draw a bald man, wearing glasses like Bret Sergeant Hart in his WWF days, pink leotards and all, smoking hops from a bottle fashioned like a bong… call it Lazy Days and a tag line beneath it… High in Hops.

Getting copyright and licensing right is not hard. Stock libraries explain what and how you can use the images. Normally you have a standard licence (with limited impressions or times you can print or reproduce the graphic) or extended, which in most cases allows for unlimited use.

However, with stock, or publicly accessible assets, there is the issue that someone else can use it and they have an equal right as you may have. Hence why illustrating or own graphics are best.

Over the coming months, I hope to add new observations on how to better your brand image, ways to market, ideas. I hope you have enjoyed this personal summary. Rachid Taibi • Creative Designer at The Upright One




My first Golden Pints

This is my first beer blog post and I’m starting things off in a fairly straight forward manner with my 2015 Golden Pints. The writing might have been straight forward, but the decisions definitely haven’t been – it’s been a year which has seen lots of great beers and beer businesses. Celebrating that incredible hard work, creativity and skill on display in 2015 seems to me a great way to begin blogging.
Without further ado, here are my (totally biased) selections from the last 12 months!

1. Best UK Cask Beer – Jarl; Fyne Ales. At the Fyne Ales Brewery Tap, next to the beautiful Loch Fyne… Pretty much as good as it gets, but pretty tasty at my local too!

2. Best UK Keg Beer – Cannonball; Magic Rock. At the Hop Inn, and it’s been on there a few times this year, with good reason.

3. Best UK Bottled Beer – Finders Keepers; Cromarty Brewing. Just about nudged past such phenomenal beers as Buxton’s Axe Edge and Mad Hatter’s Penny Lane Pale.

4. Best UK Canned Beer – So’hop; Moor Beer. I’ve not drunk a lot of cans this year, but Moor Beer have stood out as consistent wins.

6. Best Overseas Bottled Beer – Schneider Weisse Aventinus. Love love love this beer, for a clear win despite tough competition from the Belgians.

8. Best collaboration brew – Off the Rails; Fallen Brewing & Hanging Bat ; with honourable mentions to Trolltunga from Buxton & Lervig as well as Atlantis Gose from Freigeist Beirkultur & Stillwater Artisinal. This one was probably the closest of all the decisions, and all the contenders were sours.

9. Best Overall Beer – I hate making this call, but it’s going to Schneider Weisse Aventinus.

10. Best Branding – Weird Beard; distinctive, fun, characterful.

13. Best UK Brewery – Cromarty Brewing takes this on the back of two of my favourite beers of the year – both foraged saisons. They just about win out over the consistent excellence of Buxton, Weird Beard, Mad Hatters and Magic Rock among others.

14. Best Overseas Brewery – Põjhala win out as a new entry from Estonia, over my recurring favourites St Feullien, De Ranke & Maredsous.

15. Best New Brewery Opening 2015 – Cloudwater – they’ve made it look like they’ve been doing it for ages, with a changing range of thoughtfully constructed beer. Top work.

16. Pub/Bar of the Year – The Hop Inn, Newcastle-under-Lyme. A great cask and keg line up has had a great bottle selection added to it, delivering great beer, great value and great service in a great environment. There are honourable mentions for Chez Sofie in Shrewsbury (lovely bottles and kegs with delicious crepes) & Buxton Tap House (part cutting edge, exciting beer bar and part rustic comfort that is so so difficult to drag yourself away from).

18. Beer Festival of the Year – Birmingham Beer Bash wins this one, but it was so close with runner up IMBC.

19. Supermarket of the Year – Waitrose gets my vote this year for it’s edge on overseas beers, but again, it’s a close one with M&S.

20. Independent Retailer of the Year – only opening in the last few weeks of 2015, none the less I’m giving this one to Otters Tears, Burslem. It’s a lovely shop with an exciting selection of some of the hardest to find gems in the beer world – with much more to come I’m sure! If they hadn’t opened for a couple more weeks, this would have gone to Leek Bottle Lab who have brought a shockingly good bottle shop to rural Staffordshire.

21. Online Retailer of the Year – I’ve not bought much online this year, but my BeerBods box has continued to delivered an interesting & tasty selection.

23. Best Beer Blog or Website – Larsblog – every post this year has been gripping reading – from detailed discussion of microorganisms to compelling descriptions of traditional brewing, it’s all been essential reading.

24. Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer – @broadfordbrewer – for bad puns, perspective and generally making me smile a lot.

Thanks to all of those mentioned and all of those others who haven’t been mentioned, but who have made my 2015 a lot of fun and full of delicious beer!

Something in the air tonight : Can Birmingham be the next must visit Craft Beer Destination?

213451891_88bcc3fbf9_zThere is something in the air, murmurs, whispers…it’s spoken with hushed but hopeful tones. It has nothing to do with Phil Collins, or a big hairy gorilla playing a drum kit (although I have been mistaken for a Gorilla at times). It has everything to do with beer.  The Birmingham Craft Beer scene is growing and it is rather exciting.

Over the last few years nearly all my holidays and day trips with my beautiful wife have been focused on beer related activities. With the increased interest in craft beer, and as people begin to seek out better beer and places that sell them, beer has become a valid tourist attraction.  Examples of this include the Bermondsey Beer Mile in London and the Piccadilly Beer Mile in Manchester.   Our own beer destination of choice has become Leeds, with its fantastic array of bars including North Bar, Friends of Ham and Tapped Leeds. Each time we have visited Leeds my wife and I have asked ourselves the same question: ‘Why isn’t Birmingham this good?’

There is no doubt that Birmingham has some fantastic beer venues and events, chiefly among them Birmingham Beer Bash, a very highly regarded independent beer festival. The Craven Arms is also a mecca for the Birmingham beer lover serving a fantastic selection on both cask and keg. Other places in the city centre which are also good for ‘craft’ beer include Cherry Reds, Brewdog Birmingham and Purecraft Bar and Kitchen. Alongside this, there are also a number of other venues which offer a great selection of beer available in bottles, cask and keg and these include The Victoria, Post Office Vaults, and The Wellington. This is without the great bottle shops Stirchley Wines and Spirits and Cotteridge Wines which are just a short trip out of the city centre.

Since many of these opened a couple of years ago, the progress here in Birmingham has seemed slow and as a result, it has been hard to convince people in the Midlands and beyond that Birmingham is in fact, an OK place for a few decent beers.  That said, this beer drinker feels the pace is increasing, in fact kicking in to overdrive and there are some very exciting new developments.

In recent weeks we have seen the grand opening of Tilt (a place combining Craft Beer, rtisan Coffee and Pinball – 4880998780_f82a956d6d_za great combo indeed!) and had an announcement of a new food venue opening in December, which will offer a permanent home for the Original Patty Men.  This venue will not only serve amazing burgers (including a personal favourite of mine – Big Verns Krispy Ring), but will also serve some fantastic beers as they plan to open in partnership with nationally renowned Siren Craft Brew.  Just a short walk  out of the city centre Two Towers have also announced the opening of their Tap Room ‘The Gunmaker Arms’ in the Jewellery Quarter which is due to open on 1st December. In addition to this, there have also been a number of tweets suggesting there may be a New Street Tap on the horizon, but we will watch that space for more news…

As if to prove my point that the Birmingham beer scene is indeed  growing, whilst writing and editing this blog, Birmingham Beer Bash has announced it will be returning next year and will also be introducing Birmingham’s very  first Beer Week.

Over coming months, we as a collective hope to explore and blog about many of these venues and events in much more depth. But for now, I will leave you with one thing I’ve already learnt through exploring all of these new developments…

I am rubbish at pinball.

Disclaimers – There are a number of fantastic venues across Birmingham, and surrounding areas that I have not mentioned in this post for the point of brevity. I hope to cover some of those venues in a future post.

Beer isn’t Bad for Me! (Honest)

Beer has been very good to me. It may not have been kind to my liver, and it has certainly contributed to some intense headaches, but it has a dramatic effect on my state of mind, and has given me the opportunity to meet people I may not have otherwise met.

Of course, I blame my brother-in-law.  I had begun to find the usual mass produced lager boring and bland and had craved something a little different.  I’d tried some traditional ales and although not completely won over, they had become my drink of choice when visiting a pub or bar.  I didn’t know anything about ‘craft beer’ and didn’t know beer could taste so amazing.

My journey began when I accepted Roger Protz’s challenge to drink 300 Beers before I shrugged off this mortal coil. I simply hadn’t realised the vast array of beers available, and the various different styles across the world.  I roped a friend into completing the challenge with me and we set about the list (he even created a spreadsheet, he loves spreadsheets).  My gateway drug, and the beer that convinced me I needed more was Williams Brothers Fraoch Heather Ale.

Since drinking this beer eighteen months ago, I have been on a voyage of discovery and have drunk some great beers from across the world, some of my favourites include Battle Horse by Buxton, Human Cannonball and Un-human Cannonball by Magic Rock, The Tickle Monster by Siren Craft Brew/To Øl and slightly further away from home Mexican Cake by Westbrook Brewing Co.

Not only have I discovered some great beers, but I have also visited some fantastic places and have even begun to plan my holidays and trips away based on where is good for beer!  Some of the top places I have visited this year have included Bath Brew House in Bath, The Evening Star and Seven Stars in Brighton, a large majority of the bars I visited in Leeds (it’s an amazing place for Craft Beer!), and then further afield Kulminator and Oude Arsenaal in Antwerp, Belgium.

Closer to home in the West Midlands, we may not be as privileged to have quite as many great bars as Leeds has, but we still have some brilliant places to drink and buy beer, and through visiting these places I have had the opportunity to meet like minded people, who I’ve developed good friendships with.

I have found the beer world to be full of open minded, caring and funny people, all of whom share my passion for beer.

Beer is good for me because it has given me a purpose, a hobby and friendships. Through this blog I hope to share my passions and give a little back to the culture that has given so much to me.  In this blog, I have already mentioned various beers I have enjoyed and places I’ve been to, both in the Midlands and beyond – these are things both me, and those contributing to this blog look forward to discussing and exploring more as the blog moves forward.